It is February and right about now, the wind is howling - right through doors and windows! From steam boiler checks to clearing ice dams, here's how to protect your home from the elements this February, one weekend at a time:
Weekend #1: Clear ice dams. Much of the United States has seen some wild and cold weather lately, regardless of the usually warm winter we are enjoying here in the east. In many parts of the country, ice has really caused some damage. Take this weekend to examine what damage has occurred as the result of Mother Nature's icy wrath.
To check for ice dams, start by taking a look at the roof and gutter line. If you have been admiring icicles hanging off your roof, don't let the glistening crystals snow blind you to the possible damage beneath caused by ice dams.
Ice dams occur when water freezes on your roof, usually in the area over the soffits. As melting snow water drips down, it hits the ice dam and then backs up under the roof shingles and leaks through your ceiling below. Ice dams can cause damage to the shingles and underlayment. Ice dams cause water to get into the nooks and crannies of the house, causing even more damage.
If you do have ice dams, be sure to properly insulate and ventilate your attic space , since it should be the same temperature up there as it is outside. Install a premium underlayment made to prevent ice damming. You have to remove some shingles to add it, but it is worth the hassle.
Make sure the ice has not damaged your gutter system in any way. The ice can fill the mounted gutters and cause them to fall off the roof line. Double check that all mountings are still securely fastened to your home's structure. While you are checking the gutters, clear any debris clogging the gutters to keep the water moving away from the roof and foundation.
Weekend #2: Check your steam boiler system. If your house has a steam boiler system, or steam heat, now is the time for a professional check to make sure the steam boiler is operating properly. The boiler should be three-quarters full with water and should be operating at a low pressure of about 2-5 psi. The steam boiler should have a water level gauge, a pressure gauge, high pressure limit switch, safety valve, and a low water cut off.
All of the steam boiler system monitors will keep you on top of the system's efficiency. If the water level is low, you can manually add water through the water fill valve. Some boilers are equipped with an automatic water feed valve and the water level can be adjusted automatically. Always make sure the steam boiler system is operating properly, and have the unit serviced at least once a year, either at the beginning of the heating season, or the end of the heating season.
Weekend #3: Home Improvements may be tax deductible. It is almost tax time and while normally you would not associate home improvement with doing your taxes, you might want to take a moment to rethink that. The US Government and Energy Star want to pay you for energy efficient improvements made to your home. Tax credits are available for many types of home improvements, including adding insulation, replacement windows, and certain high efficiency heating and cooling equipment. For more information, visit the Energy Star website  to learn about all of the qualifications for the tax credit to see if your home improvement qualifies.
Weekend #4: Storing Firewood. When storing firewood, circulation and safety are the two main things to keep in mind as you stack up and store your fuel supply. A firewood stack can become a termite buffet if the firewood stack mixes with moisture, or if the termites have access to the structures on your property. What's more, wet wood doesn't burn very efficiently, putting out more steam than heat.
To store firewood, start by finding a dry, safe home for the firewood, whether in an open air woodshed or a free standing firewood stack. Keep firewood out of contact with the ground by using a stack base of treated wood or other moisture resistant material, and avoid stationing the firewood stack against an exterior wall of your home, as a pocket of moisture can develop and damage the siding as well as welcome termites and other pests.
Cut firewood to the longest possible length for stacking stability (a single row is best), and pack it snugly, but with enough space to allow airflow and discourage the development of mold and mildew. Four feet is about the maximum height your firewood stack should reach without side supports, and an even, no-slope arrangement should allow easy access to the firewood and maintain stability. Finally, shield the top few layers of ready-to-use firewood with a waterproof cover, adjusting it as you remove the firewood fuel for indoor warmth.
Now is the best time to attend to the needs of your steam boiler, roof and firewood storage issues, as well as to plan for those spring home improvements that can deliver big tax savings.